Emergency declaration option for wall tests GOP

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE is digging in on potentially declaring a national emergency to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall, a move that would set up a clash with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Declaring migration at the southern border a national emergency may be Trump’s best option for a quick off-ramp to end the partial shutdown, which is now in its 20th day with little to no progress toward a negotiated agreement.

The president and White House officials aren’t ruling out taking the controversial step as they search for an exit strategy. Trump raised the possibility several times on Wednesday, at one point saying he “may” make an emergency declaration if he can’t get a deal with congressional Democrats who participated in a third White House meeting.

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“I may do that at some point,” Trump told reporters after a closed-door meeting with Senate Republicans.

He added that he might do so if Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US MORE (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDHS chief to Pelosi: Emergency border funding 'has already had an impact' The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants Trump faces new hit on deficit MORE (D-Calif.) “don’t agree to the fact that our country has really got problems with crime, with drugs, with a lot of other things that come through our southern border.”

An agreement between Trump and Democrats appeared to move further away after Wednesday’s brief White House meeting, which the president blasted as a “waste of time.”

Republican senators are wary of crossing Trump on major issues like the border, where the party’s base is pressuring Trump not to cave, and many have stopped short of flatly opposing using an emergency declaration or issuing ultimatums to the president.

But leapfrogging Congress by declaring a national emergency would fly directly in the face of public warnings from Republican lawmakers, including some of the president’s traditional allies in Congress. Several are making clear they would prefer to resolve the stalemate through negotiations, characterizing a national emergency declaration as the “last thing you do” and urging the president to “tread lightly.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school MORE (R-Texas) warned that it could guarantee the fight over the border wall drags on for years and tie the administration up in a lengthy legal challenge that would effectively halt progress on Trump’s goal of building the wall.

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“I think it adds new layers of complexity because we know the first thing that will happen is somebody will file a lawsuit, and it won’t be resolved for weeks, maybe months, maybe even years,” Cornyn said.

When asked if using an emergency declaration would at least let Trump and Congress end the shutdown, Cornyn grimaced and said, “I don’t think that resolves much of anything.”

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said “there are many ways out of the shutdown.” But when pressed if a declaration was one of those paths, he said it “would not have been my initial thought as one of the ways out of this.”

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisRepublicans scramble to contain Trump fallout McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric GOP senator: 'Outrageous' to say Trump's tweets about Democratic congresswomen are racist MORE (R-N.C.) brushed off questions about whether he would support an emergency declaration, saying he was instead interested in putting “pressure on Congress to come up with a long-term solution.”

“You can’t be in a national emergency forever. For us to totally secure the border, that’s a multiyear proposition,” he said when asked if declaring an emergency would take pressure off Congress for now.

The contention over using the declaration option is the latest sign of division between Senate Republicans and Trump over the party’s shutdown strategy. The chamber passed a stopgap measure late last month to prevent a partial shutdown, but Trump, under fire from conservative pundits, opposed the measure and has since doubled down on his demand for more than $5 billion in wall funding.

Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants GOP rattled by Trump rally Third Kentucky Democrat announces challenge to McConnell MORE (R-Ky.) tried to emphasize party unity after a closed-door Senate lunch with Trump and Vice President Pence. Trump said Republicans were “totally unified” on the border strategy, while the tight-lipped GOP leader said senators were “behind” the president.

“We’re sticking with the president on this,” McConnell told reporters when he returned to the Capitol from the White House meeting later that day.

But a growing number of Republican senators are getting antsy as the partial government closure is heading toward a record as the longest shutdown. Two moderate senators — GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (Alaska) — confronted Trump during the closed-door meeting about the effect of the partial shutdown, which has left roughly 800,00 federal workers furloughed or working without pay.

Republican senators say the idea of using a national emergency to construct the wall along the southern border was mentioned during the closed-door meeting with Trump at the Capitol, which lasted more than an hour, but indicated it wasn’t a significant point of discussion.

“I think there’s some concern. I believe he’s heard those, about how it could be used by future presidents for other reasons,” Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract EU official in Canada says he feels 'at home' there because no one was shouting 'send him back' MORE (R-Fla.) said after the meeting.

Collins, speaking with reporters, dismissed the idea of Trump declaring a national emergency in order to construct the border wall as “dubious” and questioned whether the administration could unilaterally move money out of the Pentagon’s budget.

“Although the president does have national emergency declaration powers … this would be a dubious constitutional authority and would clearly be challenged in the courts. I think a far better approach is for the president to work with members of Congress to come up with a compromise,” she said. “I just don’t think you can repurpose more than $5 billion from the defense budget for purposes unrelated to what the money was appropriated for.”

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on the possibility of Trump declaring a national emergency to use military funding for the wall, saying it is a hypothetical question because “we currently have no such order.”

When Trump discussed using military funding in December, the Pentagon said in a statement to reporters that it had no plans to build the wall. But the statement added that “Congress has provided options under Title 10 U.S. Code that could permit the Department of Defense to fund border barrier projects, such as in support of counter drug operations or national emergencies.”

The relevant section of Title 10 says that in the event of a national emergency, the Defense secretary can use military construction funding that has yet to be committed to a specific contract for other projects that support the Armed Forces.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase MORE (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said using an emergency declaration wasn’t his preferred route, but that he could support it and thought there was a way to avoid dipping into Pentagon funding.

“We need to move it, and if you don’t see another path forward and that’s the only path, we’re going to have to do it,” Inhofe said. When asked if he saw another path, Inhofe replied: “I don’t see one. Do you?”

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) stressed that he wasn’t recommending Trump declare a national emergency, while simultaneously downplaying the controversy.

“I know there are some of my colleagues — and I’m not recommending the fourth option, please don’t misunderstand me — but some of my colleagues think it will be the end of western civilization if he does that,” he said. “I don’t.”